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How connected are we to our neighbours?

Purpose and background

This article reports on New Zealanders' connections with their neighbours. By examining the amount and frequency of support people experience, readers gain a clearer picture of how neighbourhood support builds community.

How connected are we to our neighbours? is one of several articles that give high-level information to answer the question: What do the social networks of New Zealanders look like?

The other articles look at measures for: family relationships; contact with supportive family; contact with supportive friends; and club membership.

Social networks are important in forming social connections between people. ‘Social connectedness’ results from positive interactions, and gives rise to solidarity and trust between people or groups of people living in a society.

Positive interactions between neighbours are important for social support and well-being and create greater social cohesion for the neighbourhood. Trusting relationships lead to increased feelings of safety and security. There is now a body of evidence that demonstrates strong links between neighbourhood characteristics and people’s mental health and well-being (Elliott, Gale, Parsons, & Kuh, 2014).

Another benefit to living in a supportive community is having support from others in times of crisis. The response to the February 2011 Christchurch earthquakes highlighted this. The Christchurch community demonstrated its resilience by the way community organisations stepped up and looked after people in their neighbourhoods (McLean, Oughton, Ellis, Wakelin, & Rubin, 2012).

The 2014 New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS) collected information on neighbourhood connections that provides new insights into:

  • length of time in neighbourhood
  • number of supportive neighbours
  • how we connect with our neighbours
  • how often we connect with our neighbours.

Over half of New Zealanders have lived in the same neighbourhood for more than six years

Given that it takes time to build support networks, the length of time people have lived in a neighbourhood can be an important determinant in social integration (Keene, Bader, & Ailshire, 2013). NZGSS 2014 results show that more than half (56 percent) of New Zealand adults (aged 15+) had lived in the same neighbourhood for six years or more, while 11 percent had been there for less than one year.

Renters less likely to live in same neighbourhood long-term

Tenure security can provide long-term renters or home-owners with independence, stability, and control over their lives, which all provide a basis for community participation (Statistics New Zealand, 2009a). At the 2013 Census, 65 percent of New Zealanders were owner-occupiers and 35 percent were not (Statistics New Zealand, 2014).

When broken down by tenure, 7 in 10 (70 percent) renters in New Zealand had lived in the same neighbourhood for five years or less; 23 percent had been there less than one year; and just 6 percent had lived in the same neighbourhood for 21 or more years. Owner-occupiers were more likely to have lived in the same neighbourhood for longer – more than 1 in 5 (23 percent) reported they had lived in the same neighbourhood for 21 years or more.

Figure 1

Graph, Number of years living in neighbourhood, by tenure, April 2014 to March 2015.

There are many reasons why people move from one residence to another and these reasons may be positive or negative. Economic reasons were the main motivators for people who moved within the same region. For those who moved to another region the main motivator was social, followed by environmental reasons (Statistics New Zealand, 2009b).

More than half of us have supportive neighbours

More than half (56 percent) of New Zealand adults reported having supportive neighbours, with 36 percent of New Zealanders having one or two. Fewer than 1 in 10 (8 percent) had five or more supportive neighbours. This left more than 4 in 10 (44 percent) who reported having no neighbours who gave them support.

When we look at the number of years people have lived in the same neighbourhood, 70 percent of those who had been there for less than a year reported having no supportive neighbours. In contrast, 34 percent of those living in the same neighbourhood for 21 or more years said they had no supportive neighbours.

Long-term residents (21+ years) were also more likely to have five or more supportive neighbours (13 percent) than those living in the same neighbourhood for less than a year (2 percent).

Figure 2

Graph, Number of supportive neighbours, by years in the neighbourhood, April 2014 to March 2015.

We mainly connect with our neighbours face-to-face

Neighbours are an important source of social networks and support because of the geographical proximity they have, which is often not found with family and friends. This proximity offers the potential for regular face-to-face contact.

Talking in person was by far the most common way New Zealand adults kept in touch with their neighbours. Of the 56 percent of New Zealand adults who had at least one supportive neighbour, almost all (93 percent) said their main means of contact was talking in person. Telephone was the second-most-common contact type (6 percent).

Over half of us have contact with supportive neighbours at least weekly

New Zealand adults talk to their neighbours regularly. Over half (55 percent) of those with supportive neighbours had had contact with their neighbours at least weekly in the last four weeks; just 4 percent had no contact with their neighbours.

The frequency of contact with supportive neighbours did not appear to change with length of residence in the neighbourhood.

Figure 3

Graph, Frequency of contact for those with supportive neighbours, by years in neighbourhood, April 2014 to March 2015.

Majority happy with amount of contact with neighbours

Almost 9 in 10 (89 percent) New Zealand adults with supportive neighbours felt they had about the right amount of contact with those neighbours. One in 10 (10 percent) said they did not have enough, and 1 percent reported they had too much contact.

Supportive neighbours enhance feeling safe in neighbourhood

An extensive body of literature documents the importance of social integration for health and well-being (Keene et al, 2013). Having connections in their neighbourhood can increase people’s feelings of general trust and safety. In contrast, limited social networks can be a factor in reduced levels of trust and feeling safe, which can in turn have a negative effect on people’s well-being.

New Zealand adults with no supportive neighbours were less likely to say they felt safe or very safe when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark; 59 percent of them felt safe, compared with 66 percent of those with five or more supportive neighbours.

When asked how safe they felt when at home by themselves at night, those with no supportive neighbours were a little less likely to state they felt safe or very safe (85 percent) than those with five or more supportive neighbours (90 percent).

Figure 4

Graph, Feeling safe/very safe when walking alone in neighbourhood after dark, by number of supportive neighbours, April 2014 to March 2015.

Figure 5

Graph, Feeling safe/very safe home alone at night, by number of supportive neighbours, April 2014 to March 2015.

Trust level increases with more supportive neighbours

Almost 1 in 5 (18 percent) individuals with five or more supportive neighbours rated their general trust in people in New Zealand at 9 or 10 (on a 10-point scale, where 0 is not at all and 10 is completely). Only 13 percent of those with no supportive neighbours did so.

Figure 6

Graph, Generalised trust rating, by number of supportive neighbours, April 2014 to March 2015.

Summary points

Neighbours play a key role in many aspects of people’s health and well-being by providing a supportive network. For example, evidence shows that people in more supportive neighbourhoods have a greater sense of safety.

More than half of New Zealand adults had supportive neighbours; the majority had one or two. But the number is strongly associated with how many years a person has lived in their neighbourhood. Those living in their neighbourhood for six or more years were twice as likely to have supportive neighbours as those who had lived there less than one year.

Neighbours can be more accessible for face-to-face contact than family and friends, due their close proximity. They therefore provide an important social connection that may not be possible for other social networks.

References

Elliott, J, Gale, CR, Parsons, S, Kuh, D, & HALCyon Study Team (2014). Neighbourhood cohesion and mental wellbeing among older adults: A mixed methods approach. Social Science & Medicine (107), 44–51.

Keene, D, Bader, M, & Ailshire, J (2013). Length of residence and social integration: The contingent effects of neighborhood poverty. Health & place (21), 171–178.

McLean, I, Oughton, D, Ellis, S, Wakelin, B, & Rubin, CB (2012). Review of the civil defence emergency management response to the 22 February Christchurch earthquake.  Available from www.alnap.org.

Statistics New Zealand (2009a). Review of housing statistics report 2009. Available from www.stats.govt.nz.

Statistics New Zealand (2009b). Reasons for moving within and between regions. Available from www.stats.govt.nz.

Statistics New Zealand (2012). Objectives of the 2014 New Zealand General Social Survey’s social networks and support rotating module. Available from www.stats.govt.nz.

Statistics New Zealand (2014). 2013 Census QuickStats about housing. Available from www.stats.govt.nz.

Tables

For more detailed data, see the Excel table in the 'Available files' box. If you have problems viewing the file, see opening files and PDFs.

Citation
Statistics New Zealand (2015). How connected are we to our neighbours? Retrieved from www.stats.govt.nz.

ISBN 978-0-478-42999-2 (online)
Published 18 September 2015
Updated 17 December 2015 (tables added)

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